While discussing politics the other day, a family friend joked with me and said "I want you to know: I'm writing your name in for governor when we head to the polls in November!" He said it partially out of sympathy for my continued job hunt, and partially due to his unhappiness with the choices available to him. I responded by saying that Governor Patrick could keep the job - I certainly wouldn't want to have to make all the tough choices he's facing (that, and I happen to like Governor Patrick).
Although it was a just a light, off-hand moment between us, it did set me thinking. We're now a few weeks past Labor Day, and political conversations are making their way to peoples' kitchen tables again. People are tuning in, paying more attention, and starting to focus on the choices ahead. Some people are working to educate themselves on the issues and the candidates; others are putting signs that say "Vote Out Incumbents in Nov." on their front lawns. There is, unquestionably, a great deal of frustration out there.
Yet I roll my eyes every time I drive by one of the "throw all the bums out" signs. Having worked in municipal government, I've been privileged to work alongside some very decent folks who have devoted themselves to public service, and who have given it their best effort. Nevertheless, if they're part of the government, they're often painted as lazy, corrupt, uncaring, or incompetent by many of the people they represent. This charactarization is sometimes born out of political disagreements or unhappiness over the status quo - both of which can be legitimate - or over an ignorance of how the system truly works. There were certainly days when those of us at city hall might privately gripe (amongst ourselves) that it's so much easier to criticize from the outside, as opposed to trying to govern from the inside. "Just wait until you walk a mile in my shoes," as the old saying goes....
From that perspective, I find the whole Tea Party phenomenon interesting. This isn't just people getting together to moan and complain about the state of affairs - they are also actively working to promote candidates that they think will do a better job of it. I don't happen to agree with the politics behind the Tea Partiers at all, but enough people do that several Tea Party candidates appear to have a shot at winning office this fall. Should these candidates - who hail from the extreme right-wing fringes of the political spectrum - actually win, though, I wonder how they will behave once they are in office. Ezra Klein, over at the Washington Post, touched upon this in a recent column, and he summed up the situation/dilemma facing the Tea Party candidates very nicely: "Amid the poetry of campaigning, you can have everything. Faced with the prose of governing, you have to make choices." So will these ideologically extreme candidates be able to "purify" government and revamp their offices to the satisfaction of their base? Or will the realistic, everyday demands of governing force them to compromise, once they realize that it's a whole different ballgame from the inside....?